About my position on Ukraine: what war is like

Have you ever been in a war zone?  Have you ever crossed the front lines in a major city, passing a pile of rubble with a child’s toy nearby, the decaying foot of a woman protruding, knowing from the smell and setting what lies underneath?  Have you ever visited a peaceful Christian village that may have lived under a dictatorship but was at least protected with families and a growing middle class, and later found it destroyed by a radical group our government trained, the people slaughtered, their daughters enslaved, all as part of an effort to overthrow that harsh but stable government?  Ever regain consciousness, wracked with pain, realizing you’ve been thrown through the air from a terrorist bomb that probably killed everyone around you?

I know damn well what war is like – I’ve been in them on four continents. And it haunts me.  If there is any truth in war it is that innocent people caught in the middle pay the highest price. War is something to be avoided – and that requires understanding why they start. Yes, there are circumstances where war is justified, but starting them – or triggering them by goading others in to them – should be a last resort, not just another policy option.  Avoiding wars – or properly prosecuting them if we have to – requires understanding the other side.

Understanding isn’t agreement. Understanding isn’t justification. Don’t doubt that the Russian invasion of Ukraine is catastrophically wrong.  But it is understandable when viewed from their perspective. Understanding that is essential to create good policy and solve problems.

Putin isn’t Hitler, and the comparisons to 1930’s Europe are way overblown on many levels.  It’s a dangerous and toxic analogy because once you invoke it there is no need for further discussion: the other side is evil and must be destroyed.  Make no mistake, Russia under Putin is oppressive.  But as far as I know Russia isn’t engaged in genocide, their ideology (while it does have Russian  supremacist elements) is primarily based on power and control of resources, not on some insane vision of a pure future based on the annihilation of other people.  The rhetoric has become increasingly disturbing all around, and this doesn’t help. Russia isn’t even engaging in human rights abuses and supporting dangerous ideologies that rise to the level of, say, our good friends Saudi Arabia. So stop it with the Hitler comparisons.

Russia and Putin sure as hell aren’t warm and fuzzy. My key point is had we conducted ourselves differently, I feel Russia would have evolved over time into a more open democratic society.  Putin and Russia had pursued a fairly pragmatic foreign policy until recent years – it didn’t become openly hostile and expansionist until pushed beyond red lines they stated well in advance. Again, by refusing to discuss and consider accommodations to Russia’s reasonable requests over the last 30 years, we created a situation where Russia felt it had little option but to upgrade an existing conflict (the conflict the West has been escalating against Russia actively for at least 15 of those 30  years) from an asymmetric low level conflict to a full blown kinetic shooting war.   In short, the war didn’t start last week, last year, or even in 2014. It started in 1991.

One map making the rounds … pulled from a pro-Russian site.

Some have said that I’m echoing Russian Propaganda (while themselves often echoing Western Propaganda). Well, if the Kremlin says the sky is blue that doesn’t make it wrong; If something is true, it is true, and the fact that the West is dismissive of it is potentially a reason behind the aggression. That doesn’t justify the aggression, but it makes it understandable. I probably do overplay the Russian point of view – even when I disagree with it – because I am so frustrated it is not given the attention it deserves because even if we don’t believe, they either do, or are using it as a negotiating tactic, and if we don’t address it the problems can’t be solved. As one example, reflexively saying “there are no Nazis running Ukraine” just because Russia is exaggerating their role denies the fact that Eastern Europe hasn’t ever really come to terms with that past, and in fact there are some pretty unsavory elements who need to be rooted out. That’s not justification for the invasion – but it is an indictment of our policies that supported and encouraged groups like Right Sector and Azoz.

This all boils down to understanding and developing sane policies in a very dangerous and unstable world, especially understanding why those who do things we don’t like do them. Figuring out why people they act the way they do – and realistically assessing our responsibility and role in creating conditions that contribute to those actions – is an utterly essential part of that process.

6 thoughts on “About my position on Ukraine: what war is like

  1. You have once again eloquently and precisely stated my views. Thank you! I have little (none?) faith our clueless leadership will do other than blindly blunder us into yet another senseless horrible conflict.

    Jim

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  2. Amen, (from an atheist). Russia is not a evil and neither is the West (some bad people and some good). However, as you have stated we (the U.S.) has the hubris that we think we should always have our way (domination) and anyone opposing us is evil. Such thinking on our part leads to wars and their unknown consequences. The west needs to get some humility (we learned nothing from Iraq/Afghanistan – except how to fly drones).
    AJ

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  3. This debate over causes is certainly interesting. But I would be interested in your take on current tactics and probable outcomes at this point. The news seems kind of light on this kind of information.

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    • Not only light, but clearly a lot of the commentators don’t understand Russian military strategy and tactics. I think things are probably going a lot better for Russia than you would think from the reporting. Remember it took 23 days for the US to reach Baghdad in the Iraq invasion, and much of that was, from a practical standpoint, unopposed. It seems Russia are following the tactics developed in the second Chechen War and refined in Georgia and Crimea, essentially bypassing the cities, and it seems trying to minimize civilian casualties. Note that unlike the US/NATO attack on Yugoslavia or Iraq, Russia isn’t doing widespread bombing of critical infrastructure like using carbon-fiber bombs to short out electrical systems, etc. Not to say it isn’t being hit, but they seem to be very selective; power is still on and internet functioning in most places.

      The biggest problem at the moment regarding commentary is the lack of solid information; there was heavy cloud cover today so didn’t get a lot of satellite data. And I don’t believe anything either Western or Russian reporters are saying on the ground.

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  4. Thank you… It is rare to encounter one who is a critical thinker. Please do not let the negative responses to your posts deter you. I look forward to your comments, be it the non-hysterical storm reporting or political discussion. Again, thank you.

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